Your Excellency, Honourable Mayor, Church and Secular Leaders, Ladies and Gentlemen, Citizens of Esztergom,
The city of Esztergom is a home to every Hungarian – even if they do not know that it is. As [the poet] Mihaly Babits wrote of Esztergom, “They are just like the hills of my home: below me, above me, a little piece is mine.” We understand what he was saying. To Hungarians Esztergom is what the reception room was to those who lived in peasant houses: a sacred place, where one could enter only if one had a good reason. A piece of this city is ours. A piece of our soul lives here. The better part of us is a citizen of Esztergom.
The fate of this city is inextricably intertwined with the history of Hungary. I believe that this is not the result of a strange coincidence, but was decreed by a higher power, which made Esztergom the country’s first city. It was from here that Prince Géza sent peace envoys to the German Emperor, asking for nothing in return but the missionaries he needed for the country’s conversion to Christianity. It was here that the country’s first archdiocese was founded, and the surrounding area abounds with vestiges of spiritual life in medieval Hungary. In the reign of King Matthias, the city attracted Europe’s intellectual elite: artists and scientists, poets, astronomers, historians and master builders. Esztergom is both our spiritual centre and our most important link with the Western Christian civilisation of which we became a part more than one thousand years ago.
Hungarian statehood would be inconceivable without Esztergom. In addition to his exceptional coronation duties, the Archbishop of Esztergom was also obliged to warn the King against violating the Constitution. It is safe to say that this primateship was Hungary’s first true constitutional court.
Citizens of Esztergom,
I imagine that the only source of sorrow for the people of Esztergom is that they cannot be in two places at once: Esztergom and Párkány [Štúrovo]. Thus they cannot really see how beautiful their town is. But the situation is not a mere rose garden. As precious as Esztergom is to Hungarians, the former capital has not escaped strife: during their short but brutal occupation, the Tatars ravaged the chambers and halls of the Hungarian kings; and centuries later foreign mercenaries defending Esztergom betrayed the city to the Turks. According to the chronicles, countless treasures were taken by these “uninvited guests”. Most of these have never been recovered, and we are still waiting for honest finders to come forward. The past hundred years have taken a toll on Esztergom, as they have on the whole country. One hundred and two years ago we lost two thirds of our country, and Esztergom – a jewel set in the middle of Hungary – became a border city. Tragedy had struck, but the country’s first city retained its ancient status. As on so many other occasions, here the final nail in the coffin was hammered in by the communists. In 1950 the system of old counties was abolished, and Esztergom – the first city of Hungarians in the Carpathian Basin – ceased to be a county seat, or even a city with county rights. What was once the first became, in terms of public law, only one of many.
Honourable Citizens of Esztergom,
We are here today to restore this city of national importance to its former status. There are those who say that this is of no importance, because the wheel of time cannot be reversed. But that is not what this is about. Because if a child gets lost and we guide him home, are we turning back the wheel of time? If the water in a river becomes polluted and we clean it, are we turning back the wheel of time? If we make peace with an old friend, are we turning back the wheel of time? The answer is obvious: we must bring home those who are lost, clean that which is polluted, and bring reconciliation where discord has encroached. The restoration of Esztergom to its former status is a long-standing debt owed to it by the Hungarian people. And today we are paying what we Hungarians owe to ourselves. This is something that no one can do instead of us. And this is also a time for congratulations. It is always a joy when one regains something which one owns, and we will surely experience more of that joy. But there is even more joy when one has worked for success with all one’s might. Esztergom has proven through its deeds in recent years that it is not only its history that makes it one of the most important Hungarian cities, but also the hard work, strength, culture and patriotism of its citizens.
Congratulations to all the citizens of Esztergom. God above us all, Hungary before all else! I wish the city of Esztergom strength, health and many happy years.